According to a new survey commissioned by ITE Group, the organiser of exhibitions including Autumn Fair, two thirds (66%) of UK retailers believe it will take their business three years or more to achieve true sustainability.
Of the 1896 national and independent retailers that took part in the study, 73% said they had made changes to their operations to become more sustainable, but were realistic that total sustainability was still out of reach.
The study also found that UK retailers hope to increase the percentage of their products that are sustainable by 33% on average by the end of next year.
Sustainability has rocketed up the retail agenda in recent years, as brands and retailers come under mounting pressure to reduce their impact on the environment.
Julie Driscoll, UK regional director for ITE Group, says: “Our study confirms that the UK retail industry is passionate about taking action on sustainability. However, there are significant barriers to overcome. To achieve true sustainability takes significant resource, time and investment, arguably, it’s a continuous process for improvement, rather than a destination. Retailers aren’t shying away from that responsibility, but they are being realistic when it comes to how quickly the change can happen.
“Through the launch of the Power of One campaign at both Pure London and Spring Fair last year, ITE Group has committed to driving small, individual yet powerful, steps towards a sustainable future, by giving others the power to speak up and to focus on long-term changes in the retail and fashion industries. It’s clear that retailers are changing. Our study found 73% have improved their recycling or reuse efforts, and that 54% have reduced the use of environmentally damaging materials in products.”
In the study, respondents estimated that to make their products sustainable they would have to increase retail prices by 19% on average. In contrast, they estimate consumers would only be willing to pay 9% more for those sustainable products. One fifth (20%) believed the failure of suppliers to act sustainably or transparently was the biggest challenge.
When asked about the most important reason for sustainable behaviour, 80% of retail businesses stated it was the future of the planet, above brand image (6%), economic prosperity (6%), increased business productivity, reduced costs and greater regulatory compliance.
Julie continues: “The greatest challenge to sustainability for the retail industry often comes from their supply chains. This is where Spring and Autumn Fair and Pure London can help, by bridging the gap between suppliers and retailers. As well as continuing our Power of One campaign, all our future shows will be focusing on educating and upskilling both retailers and suppliers on sustainability issues, so that real change becomes easier.”
Autumn Fair 2019 will host talks and workshops from leaders in sustainability. James George, business engagement manager of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, will talk on the Inspiring Retail Stage on the evolving nature of the circular economy and what true sustainability looks like. Meanwhile, Agnès Gendry, head of buying, Lush Cosmetics, will walk visitors through how Lush works with suppliers to understand their ethical and sustainable credentials in order to drive visibility in their supply chain. And David Meller, responsible sourcing director at NSF International will run a session called Plastic Isn’t The Problem, which aims to educate buyers on the bigger plastics picture – while single-use plastics are a critical issue for consumers, there are other considerations on the path to achieving true sustainability.
Autumn Fair will take place between 1st-4th September at Birmingham’s NEC.